The Best Tool to Diagnose Sensor Failures

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The sensors that monitor fuel, electronic, and mechanic components that power today's modern vehicles are leading candidates for most problems that stimulate a phone call from a customer to an ASE certified mechanic. Whether the sensor is broken, has an electrical connection issue, or has become dirty, most mechanics will agree that sensor failures make up the majority of their diagnostic examinations and repairs. It's also a statement of fact that a sensor issue may be extremely difficult to diagnose with standard testing equipment. One of the best tools that mechanics utilize to diagnose sensor failures and pinpoint the precise location of the failure is an automotive oscilloscope.

The Best Tool to Diagnose Sensor Failures - oscilloscope
Image: Mac Tools

What is an automotive oscilloscope?

In general, an oscilloscope is an electrical machine that displays electronic waveforms that are being produced through an electrical circuit. Different than a standard voltmeter, the automotive oscilloscope is typically an LCD screen that is divided into equally sized squares that provides shows irregularities on the output signals produced by malfunctioning sensors, secondary ignition circuits, starter systems, intake manifold pressure, and charging currents from the vehicle's battery.

There are four primary types of automotive oscilloscopes used by today's mechanics to diagnose issues with sensors including:

  • Analog oscilloscope: This older type of monitoring device has a cathode-ray tube screen that shows higher frequencies; however are less common in today's automotive world.
  • Digital storage oscilloscope: This type of scope is used with a PC that allows the mechanic to display the electrical current, save the image, print, and examine it for individual problems.
  • Multiple-trace oscilloscopes: This type of digital oscilloscope can be divided into three different output and input signals.
  • The universal oscilloscope: The universal oscilloscope is commonly used in automotive applications to diagnose sensor issues, fuel injectors, ABS systems, fuel pump problems, compression tests, and more.

How does an automotive oscilloscope work?

An automotive oscilloscope is designed to find discrepancies that are very hard to find with the common diagnostic tools that most mechanics use. There is a precise process that mechanics use to attach and use an oscilloscope to find sensor issues:

  1. Hook up the oscilloscope to a laptop or desktop PC, if needed.
  2. Attach the oscilloscope to the sensor or injector that needs to be tested. It's important not to allow the probes of the oscilloscope to come into contact with other metal components and, and that it is connected to a ground before activating the scope.
  3. Start the vehicle engine to display the electrical traces. Although the oscilloscope is attached to only one of the sensors or injectors, the electrical traces of all sensors or injectors will be displayed on the screen. This allows the mechanic to find a discrepancy in an individual or group of sensors that will lead them to find the problem and make the appropriate repairs.
  4. The mechanic is able to review the electrical signals in real-time, and measure the amount of time of each electronic firing. This is essential when trying to diagnose a problem with any sensor; as it may be misfiring subtly – which is often missed by most standard diagnostic tools.

Having the flexibility to complete the automotive oscilloscope diagnostic examination in real time gives any mechanic an advantage over those that don't use this type of equipment. Most importantly, it helps mechanics expedite sensor failure repairs, allowing them to complete more work without wasting precious time or resources.

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Rigoberto

9 years of experience
706 reviews
Rigoberto
9 years of experience
Chevrolet Equinox - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Niles, Illinois
Rigo was great! He got there early, finished the job early, left everything clean. He changed my rear pads and rotors. The original quoted time was 90 minutes, he was done in about 60. He knows what he is doing and I am recommending him to all my friends and coworkers.
Mercedes-Benz C250 - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Chicago, Illinois
Rigo is a maverick hands down. Don’t take your car for work elsewhere. Especially great at Mercedes—this guy knows his profession! I will be using him for everything related to my car going forward.

Arturo

25 years of experience
35 reviews
Arturo
25 years of experience
Kia Forte - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - San Diego, California
ARTURO is great! very professional , fast, replaced my front brake pads and oil an filter change. everything now works and works well. Brakes have much improved stopping power and engine is smooth and quiet.Arturo is also kind and thoughtful. "Your mechanic" is very fortunate to have Arturo Lopez represent your company. I enthusiastically recommend him and "Your mechanic> as a fine operation Best regards to the Team Peter Marto
Nissan Maxima - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - San Diego, California
Arturo was prompt and completed my brake repair, including new rotors in a very efficient manner. I am very pleased with the quality of the work and the parts and will definitely look to have him service our other car in the near future.

Scott

32 years of experience
345 reviews
Scott
32 years of experience
Lexus IS250 - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Denver, Colorado
Always on time, speedy, professional, and pleasant to interact with. The work is always consistent and we'll done. I can't reccomend Scott highly enough!

Michael

10 years of experience
15 reviews
Michael
10 years of experience
Nissan Sentra - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Conyers, Georgia
He was promptly on time and got the job done efficiently in a timely manner. I really appreciate the rapid respone on getting the job done! I would most definitely use this service again.

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